Nigerian journalist Saint Mienpamo Onitsha faces charges of cyberstalking and defamation after publishing a report about tensions in the Niger Delta. (Photo: courtesy of Saint Mienpamo Onitsha)

After nearly 4 months in jail, Nigerian journalist Saint Mienpamo Onitsha freed on bail

Abuja, February 2, 2024—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes Thursday’s release on bail of Nigerian journalist Saint Mienpamo Onitsha and calls for authorities to drop all charges against him and reform the country’s laws to ensure journalism is not criminalized.

“Saint Mienpamo Onitsha was detained for nearly four months simply for doing his job, which should never be considered a crime,” said CPJ Africa Head Angela Quintal in New York. “While we welcome Thursday’s release of Onitsha, we repeat our call for Nigerian authorities to swiftly drop all charges against him and reform the country’s laws to ensure journalists do not continue to be jailed for their reporting.”

In October 2023, police arrested Ontisha, founder of the privately owned online broadcaster NAIJA Live TV, and charged him with cyberstalking under section 24 of Nigeria’s Cybercrimes Act and defamation under the criminal code. The charge sheet cited a September report about tensions in the southern Niger Delta region.

On December 4, a court in Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, heard Onitsha’s bail application and on January 25 the court granted him bail with a condition that he provides two sureties—persons willing to take responsibility for any court decisions made if Onitsha fails to meet bail obligations—with a bond of 10 million naira (US$8,372), according to copies of the court ruling, reviewed by CPJ, and Onitsha’s lawyer, Anande Terungwa, who spoke by phone with CPJ.

The court also ordered the residence of the sureties must be verified by the court registrar and that the sureties must submit documents proving they own a landed property in Abuja, as well as their recent passport photographs, according to those same sources.

Onitsha’s next court date is March 19. If convicted, he faces a 25 million naira (US$20,930) fine and/or up to 10 years in jail on the cyberstalking charges—as well as potential imprisonment for two years for charges of defamation and the publication of defamatory matter under the Criminal Code Act, according to Terungwa and a copy of the charge sheet reviewed by CPJ.

Terungwa told CPJ that the delay between Onitsha being granted bail on January 25 and his release on February 1 was due to a prolonged verification process among officials and prosecution lawyers on the conditions of Onitsha’s bail.

Onitsha appeared in CPJ’s 2023 prison census, which documented at least 67 journalists jailed across Africa as of December 1.